Mixology 101: The Not so Negroni

A riff on the classic cocktail the Americano, the Negroni is itself the result of experimentation and acts as a perfect example of how cocktails shouldn’t be pigeonholed as this or that. Substituting components in a cocktail opens up an almost limitless number of possible permutations meaning that the palates of even the most ardent opponents of any particular ingredient can be satisfied

Photography by William Woody

In an ideal world, all spirits would be created equally. With guests, with customers, with the self, vodka and whiskey would be on equal footing. The entire cocktail repertoire would be open, and each and every person could be acquainted with each and every glorious manifestation of mixology. Alas, taste is divisive, and even the most discerning drinkers have their preferences. While this could be seen as debilitating, a hard limit put on the number of cocktails one could make and enjoy, it doesn’t have to be because mixology is a science.


Science has rules and formulas that are, traditionally at least, to be fairly strictly adhered to, but the science of mixology allows the scientist to work with these patterns and to make minute modifications so that almost any drink can be catered to an individual's particular preference. This is especially true of the mixer, a complementary yet crucial co-conspirator in any captivating cocktail.


The Negroni is divisive from the outset. Gin is likely the most maligned of spirits, so any cocktail with it as its backbone is likely to scare off more than the occasional suitor. The other two ingredients, vermouth and Campari, do not necessarily help gin’s case, being bitter and botanical. The resulting drink is fantastically balanced, but certainly not everyone’s cup of tea.


Substituting tequila for the gin creates a completely new flavor profile. A Mexican Negroni, as it is often dubbed, is a delicious cocktail in its own right. The bitter orange Campari pairs nicely with the funky agave flavor, and the rich red fruit from the vermouth gives the drink a velvety mouthfeel. But what if the flavors of the complimentary liqueurs were modified as well, doubling down on the new profile provided by the agave to make something similar, yet utterly unique?


There are various liqueurs on the market that satisfy these qualifications. Mexican classics like Damiana, or new craft liqueurs like Granada Vallet are up to the task. When using local distillery Storm King’s Agave Blanco, however, something a little closer to home seems requisite.


Seasonally, the Western Slope of Colorado is graced by some truly stupendous citrus. Arizona growers come to the region in the winter, bringing some of the freshest and most vibrant fruit imaginable. By using Meyer lemons, with their vibrant limoncello quality, grapefruit from the farmstand (a classic agave accompaniment as evidenced by the eternal popularity of the Paloma), as well as some robust and bitter herbs, and a Campari substitute that leans more Latin, a uniquely Uncompahgre valley version is well within reach.


Sweet vermouth is a fortified wine liqueur, its rounded flavor being a potent combination of bitter herbs, warming spices, and port wine. The Le Marechal dessert wine from local winery LaNoue Dubois is stout yet sweet. While unique, it certainly resembles port, with its regal dark fruit flavor, making it a great base for a vermouth style liqueur. At 17 percent alcohol, it is rich enough to properly extract some enticing traditional vermouth flavors like clove, cinnamon, and orange peel, yet sweet enough to round off the bitter bite provided by wormwood.


The resulting “Not so Negroni” is boldly balanced. Fruit forward with a bite, the citrus, wine, and agave all stand out, while all also providing layers of luxury.


Cocktails sometimes seem stuck, resigned to their particular place on the palette. With spirits, however, there is so much room for experimentation.